Get Strong
A Saga

SPOILER LINK, for those without patience

Man Of Steel
I've ridden a custom Serotta steel for many years. There is nothing shabby about it, and for years I considered it my "last bike" — the bike I could ride off into the sunset, or until they scrape me off the pavement. It's carried me over several Death Rides and Gran Fondos, dozens of centuries, and halfway across Oregon, averaging 12000 kilometers a year.

That's nothing for my ultra friends, but a decent enough start, so I figured that it was time to add to the stable. I am fully cognizant of rule #12, which defines the number of bicycles one should own:

 minimum number of bikes one should own = 3
 correct number of bikes one should own = minimum of n+1 or s-1
where  n = number of bikes currently owned
and  s = the number of bikes that will result in separation from your partner

but for years my acquisitions were limited by s=2, an agreement with my wife Helen, who I love more than any bike (I know, I know; rule #11).

Summer 2010 — Titanium Dreams
In summer 2010, my friend Reese acquired a classic titanium Schwinn Paramount, built by Serotta. It didn't quite fit him, so he offered it to me. I should have given him cash on the spot. By the time I arrived for a test ride, the next afternoon, he had decided to try it himself, just once, just to see if he liked it. He stretched the fit to the limit, and days stretched into weeks. Reese rode it for the rest of the summer and into the fall. Finally, about 80 miles into Levi's Gran Fondo, he announced, "Richard, I have some bad news. I'm keeping it." He rides it on almost all of our Saturday rides, and despite those blunders, he has remained a friend rather than a former friend.

Late 2010 — Dream On
Losing the Paramount was sad, but the flames of desire had been kindled. For a while, I scoured craigslist and eBay for another, but nothing came up. Meanwhile, my eyes were starting to wander. My friend Joe has owned several Carl Strong frames, and currently rides a beautifully finished white steel. Late in 2010, I sent Carl an inquiry about pricing and options. But the s=2 constraint remained in force, and nothing came of it.

Summer 2011 — Gimme An "S"
In summer 2011, Helen agreed to increment the limit to s=3, and I became the proud owner of a 1968 Raleigh Superbe commuter. But it rained all summer and into the fall, and I don't ride in the rain. So the Superbe mostly stayed in the rack, next to the Serotta, while I spun pedals on the trainer.

November 2011 — Maybe Baby, I'll Have You
In winter 2011, Helen suggested that I might acquire another road bike. (Whether s has been further incremented was left unexplored, since I was selling the Superbe.) Flush with this new opportunity, I reinvigorated my search for a superior titanium frame. Serotta was an obvious contender, since I ride one now and a local shop is one of the largest Serotta dealers in the country, and I gave it serious consideration. I also reviewed some of the (many) other custom titanium builders: Lynskey, Moots, Seven, and Strong. The quality of information, transparency of the process, and attention to detail demonstrated on Carl's web site — especially the detailed information about the design process and how perfection is achieved — really drew me in. So a year after my initial call, I contacted Carl again. Questions and answers flowed freely for several days, part of Carl's extremely detailed exploration of a rider's needs, wants, desires, and issues. The same transparency and attention to detail were repeated throughout the process. But the deal-maker was delivery time: When Carl said that orders made by December 15 would be delivered in the spring, and orders made later would be delivered in the fall, I made a credit-card deposit immediately.

The next day, Carl sent instructions for measurements of my body and current bike. They were clear and precise, with diagrams and written descriptions of what was required. (Even so, I managed to make a measurement error, which Carl's geometry tests caught and we corrected.) I was very busy over the holidays, but Carl was patient and promised to let me know if we approached any deadlines, so that progress wasn't impeded.

After we got the measurements sorted out — with the delay always on my side — Carl sent a draft design, incorporating everything we had agreed. We reviewed the BikeCAD specifications over the course of several conversations, and Carl provided guidance at every step to arrive at the truth.

January 2012 — Parts Is Parts
Carl provides excellent standard choices for forks and build kits, and he will make any substitutions one desires. He is very knowledgeable about the options. More conversations confirmed the standard list: Enve 2.0 fork, Chris King headset, Enve stem and bars, Selle Italia SLR XP Flow saddle. There were a few changes from the standard list: Thomson Masterpiece seatpost, Campagnolo Eurus wheels. There are more frame additions and options available, from S&S travel couplers to fender and rack mounts to internal cabling and electronic shifters. Carl took time to answer all of my questions, patiently and completely.

February 2012 — These Go To Eleven
I struggled a bit over the drive train. Campagnolo or Shimano or SRAM? Standard or compact crankset? I rode Campagnolo for years, long ago. Then I rode Shimano for many years — a 12-27 cassette with standard 53-39 crankset. I am an older guy, and I climb a lot of hills. All my friends ride compacts, and recommended that I try it. The local high-end shops recommended compact. The only reasonable solution: Try everything. The shops let me borrow various combinations for test rides. Finally, I rode a Campagnolo 11 compact on a titanium frame, and after 60 miles of hills, I was convinced. With a 11-25 cassette, I will get no loss of high-end speed, while making spins up the hills a little easier. So, Campagnolo Record 11 compact drive train, with Record brakes and shifters.

March 2012 — Lady Sings The Blues
I agonized over the visual design elements. I expect to live with this bike for a long time. Should it be bare titanium, a single color, or something more subtle and distinctive? I weighed liquid paint and powdercoat. There were pages of inventive and beautiful designs in the "owner's gallery" and "back from paint" sections on Carl's web site. I explored anodizing — take a look at Leni Fried's work for some serious eye candy. Eventually, I was drawn to a scheme by Dave S, as a starting point, with bare titanium in place of the grey of his steel steed. These pictures of Dave's bike are from Carl's web site:

Carl uses Spectrum Powderworks, in Colorado Springs, for finishes. Spectrum can produce pretty much any color, and untold numbers of blues. Loretta sent a copy of the PPG Fleet Color Selector for reference. I ended up ordering my own copy ($15) from the local PPG distributor, so I could remove the color chips and compare the different choices, in sunlight and shadow (Loretta likes the shop copies returned intact). My copy arrived a week later; still too many choices. My daughter-in-law Amy, a professional designer, helped guide me to the final colors: Sovereign Blue Metallic with a Western Star White pinstripe between the titanium and the blue.

First week of March — Totally Tubular, Dude
Carl purchased the titanium stock for my frame, and put everything in the "Richard M" box on the shelf. Meanwhile, I purchased tires and tubes, another Garmin cadence sensor and computer mount, another set of Speedplay pedals, and titanium cages.

March 22 — We Don't Need Any Stinking Badges
With one day to spare, I signed off on the specifications, components, and color scheme. I added a cast pewter headbadge to complete the look:

March 23 — Build Me Up, Buttercup
Carl started the build.

March 27 — I Was Framed
Carl finished the frame, and shipped it to Spectrum for paint. It was already pretty. The welds are out of this world. Bare titanium is clean and fierce. These pictures of my frame are from Carl's blog:

Waiting for paint to dry!

April 10 — The Waiting Game
Carl and Loretta took a vacation until April 23. Move along, nothing to see here!

April 24 — The Waiting
The frame was still at Spectrum for paint. I didn't mind them taking their time; I was looking for perfection. Tom Petty said it: The waiting is the hardest part.

April 30 — You Move Me
Carl and Loretta (and crew) completed the move from the old shop on Mendenhall, and pretty much set up the shop in the new temporary location on Shawnee. With the new shop functional, Carl had a backlog of a dozen frames to build up and ship out. Mine was somewhere in the queue.

May 1 — Take A Seat, Any Seat
A short delay: Carl was waiting for a Thomson Masterpiece seatpost. The other components were in hand and ready to build up the bike.

May 2 — When I Paint My Masterpiece
I really liked the stealth paint design. The bike was mostly built up, waiting for the seatpost. There is no photo booth in the temporary workshop, so Loretta cannot create and post the usual "back from paint" images. She and Carl took a few with their smartphones:

I think I will mount a saddle, though. And pedals and bottle cages. The stealth tires are kind of cool, but I'm a little worried about the cornering stability. Just to play it safe, I will mount some Vredestein Fortezza TriComp blue tires, which are a reasonable match to the color of the interior triangle. If those don't look right, I'll change to black.

May 7 — Post Up Play
After consultation with Carl, I agreed to purchase a Thomson seatpost, so we could move the delivery forward. After scouring all the local bike shops without success, I ordered one from Masherz in Utah. The bike was already packed in the box, ready to go. Loretta organized the shipment, to land at Montano Velo on May 16 (the shop will be closed May 15, to watch the Tour of California climb Mt Diablo). And I paid the invoice.

May 11 — Going, Going, Gone!
The bike box was delivered to FedEx in Bozeman. ETA in Oakland was May 16. The seatpost was en route from Utah, with the same ETA. Very exciting!

May 16 — The Eagle Has Landed
The FedEx box arrived at Montano Velo this afternoon, and the seatpost arrived from Utah. I delivered the parts box to the shop: seatpost, pedals, Garmin pickups, bottle cages, tires and tubes. The shop was backed up a little, but we scheduled the build for next week. Jason opened the box to take a peek:

May 22 — Think Outside The Box
Jason took the bike out of the box. It was gorgeous, except for two things: there was a small flaw in the blue paint (or the clearcoat), and the pinstripe was twice as wide as specified. The pinstripe was also a bit rough on the margins.

May 23 — Bare Essentials
The paint flaw could be repaired. The issues with the pinstripe were more problematic: a thin stripe at the margin of paint and titanium was a significant technical challenge. Spectrum did the best they could, but a wider stripe was required, to avoid chipping. In addition, the paint could not be sanded to the edges, since it bordered on titanium, leaving somewhat rough edges. I was not happy with the pinstripe solution, so I decided to revert to the standard bare titanium finish. That was my original choice, before I got artistic, and it looked outstanding. Once again, Carl worked cooperatively to arrive at a solution. He promised that it will look pristine, as though it had never been painted.

May 24 — Return To Sender
Jason removed the components, and shipped the frame back to Strong. It arrived in Bozeman on May 30.

June 19 — Take 2
Carl had the paint stripped, then bead-blasted and re-waxed the titanium. The refinished frame was delivered to FedEx, and left Bozeman for Oakland. Now that there is no blue on the bike, I mounted Schwalbe DD black tires on the Campy wheels. The remaining Vredestein blue stripes will eventually go on the Serotta.

June 21 — The Long And Winding Road
The frame arrived in Oakland, but shop scheduling commitments meant that it sat for a few days.

June 27 — Wild Horses
Jason unpacked the box and built up the components. It was beautiful!

I rode it home, then left for a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast. So it sat in the garage for a week.

July 3 — Insanely Great
For my first outing, I rode the Lafayette loop — just over 40 miles with approximately 3700' of elevation gain. The bike was like a dream. With a shorter stem (by 10 mm), I have to get used to the twitchier handling, but the frame was responsive and smooth. It's over 3 lbs lighter than my Serotta steel, and I've trimmed 3 lbs in the last month, so climbing efficiency is much improved.

July 4 — Sweetness And Light
I took a second ride over the hills to Moraga and back over Wildcat. The handling was very precise, now that I'm getting used to it.

July 14 — The Devil Made Me Do It
After a 20 mile warmup from Lafayette, I rode up Mt Diablo from The Athenian School and down through North Gate, then back over Pinehurst to Oakland. 62 miles, 5800' elevation. The bike performed amazingly. I was especially pleased with the handling on the descent: steady, smooth, and responsive.

copyright © 2011,2012 richard mcintosh
images from used with permission